Tonight is the penultimate preseason game for the young Utah Jazz. They will face off against the evidence for a very young rebuild, the Oklahoma City Thunder. For a few seasons there was an actual debate about the OKC model, and some reductionalists felt like it was all about Kevin Durant. Reality suggests that it wasn't. Part of it was luck, part of it was having high lotto picks, but part of it was smart drafting -- after all they got Serge Ibaka a few spots after the Jazz swung and missed on Kosta Koufos. The biggest part, for me, is that OKC did more than just collect young potential, they converted that potential into on court production by, and some Jazz fans have trouble with this step, so I'll go slow, they converted that potential into on court production by actually getting those players on the court.
We're seeing that now, and as a result, the Utah Jazz brass are finally seeing positive results for all the hard work they did to collect so many lotto picks in such a short amount of time. Rebuilding through the draft isn't a sure thing because you can be a lotto team forever and always be stuck picking 6 or worse. The Jazz currently have a team that is primarily built by two #3 picks, one #5 pick, two #9 picks, and one #12 pick. That's Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Dante Exum, Gordon Hayward, Trey Burke, and Alec Burks. And that, the Jazz brass hope, will be a group that helps lead the team out of the lottery.
By maximizing the youth in short succession (last batch of prospect rookies start their careers in the first year of the non-rookie contract season for the first batch of prospects) the Jazz hope to have effectively doubled their chances of finding players to build around. Collecting this much talent through the draft without making the moves to double up each year (or so) would have been impossible.
Getting a return on the investment; however, shouldn't be impossible under the coaching staff the Jazz currently have with Quin Snyder and company. And love him or hate him, OKC did start his career off under P.J. Carlesmio, another former college coach who helped him learn the game through playing it. Not watching. Scott Brooks took over in his second year and really hasn't done anything except get out of the way of their very smart front office.
But this is just a history lesson. Tonight we see the Jazz future play against the Thunder present. Or, the Thunder absent or something.
Kevin Durant is out. Kendrick Perkins is out. Reggie Jackson is out, but could return tonight. Same deal with Nick Collison. Mitch McGary is out. Jeremy Lamb is a human question mark. But all of it really doesn't matter as we've seen Russell Westbook beat the Jazz by himself before. And he'll be going up against rookie Dante Exum, the battle of STR+DEX vs. INT+DEX, the battle no one actually wanted...
Trey Burke is not listed by the Utah Jazz media sheet-thingy as starting tonight, so I would assume he gets another night off. Trevor Booker is also out, so expect Steven Adams to annoy someone else all night.
I don't know how well these two teams match-up when at full strength. But tonight should be an interesting game if you have access to it. Westbrook against highly inexperienced guys, no Kevin Durant, and a pretty even battle on the inside that favors the Jazz. In the big picture this game may not reveal any greater truths of the universe.
But it's the first Westbrook / Exum face off, and a good chance to see how he faces a physically superior guard.